After struggling offensively through the first 10 games of the season, Rutgers has looked like a new team since the COVID pause. It helps that players have had a chance to get healthy, but it seems like it’s a shift in the offensive mindset that’s most responsible for the improvement.
Since their return to the court, the Scarlet Knights are shooting a sizzling 45.5% from behind the arc on 19.3 attempts per game. Yes, two of those four games were against low-major competition, but keep in mind, Rutgers was shooting 28.9% on 3-pointers with 18.0 attempts per game up to the pause. Not only have they been focusing more on the outside shot, they’ve been actively moving and rotating the ball to set up good 3-point looks, details which had been missing earlier in the season.
Let’s jump into the Michigan film from Tuesday night. This first play is a double screen for Ron Harper Jr. The double screen action here is really effective, and the positioning of the screeners (McConnell and Omoruyi) forces the defender to weave through them. As a result, RHJ has plenty of space for a catch-and-shoot in rhythm.
This next one comes in transition, an area that Rutgers has really struggled. It starts with Harper Jr. saving the ball on the defensive end. The ball gets to Geo Baker, who uses his body to take two defenders out of the play and create space for another wide open 3-pointer.
As every Rutgers fan knows, the best way to limit the Scarlet Knights’ offense has traditionally been to mix in some zone and force them to make outside shots. Against Michigan, that strategy didn’t really work. Rutgers used their ball and player movement to unlock the Wolverines’ zone, leading to uncontested shots like this.
I love the subtle details on this one. Geo gets the ball back after the first pass to Ron and makes a hard ball fake to move the defender towards Caleb McConnell. When it comes back to Geo the second time, the defender is shading to his right, instead of being squared up. That allows the entry pass to Paul Mulcahy, who also uses a hard ball fake to move the defender towards McConnell. That fake, combined with Geo’s shuffle to his left, create a wide-open shot. Flawless execution.
Rutgers also capitalized on easy baskets in the first half, even using some deception to create good looks around the rim. Again, awareness and player movement are the keys on both of these plays.
These are relatively simple offensive actions that we didn’t see a lot through the first 2 months. If executed correctly, they generate really good scoring chances, which is how you end up with 20 assists on 27 made FGs.
The offensive clinic continued on Saturday afternoon against Nebraska. It was the type of outburst that makes the bad, early performances so frustrating. 48 points against Merrimack, 51 against Lafayette, and then 93 on a Big Ten team.
Against the Cornhuskers, we saw a lot of positives carry over from the previous games, this time with even more players getting a piece of the action. Ron Harper Jr. lit it up, with 29 points on just 13 shots, but this was far from a one-man show. Dean Reiber, Paul Mulcahy, and Aundre Hyatt all put in a solid shift as well, as the Scarlet Knights assisted on 23 of 35 made field goals.
Let’s start with Harper again. As we saw above, he’s found a pretty good rhythm playing off Geo Baker recently, especially in transition. In fact, this first clip is one that should look familiar.
The next possession was more of the same, the only difference being that Harper wasn’t trailing Geo.
RU’s offensive evolution against zone was on full display throughout. On this first-half possession, it leads to an And-1 for RHJ.
I love this one. All 5 players are engaged, there’s a criss-cross action to confuse Nebraska’s zone, Harper recognizes the open space and times his cut perfectly and Hyatt makes a decisive final pass.
One of the most pleasant surprises in the last week was Paul Mulcahy rediscovering his confidence. With Geo now sharing the point guard duties, it’s allowed Mulcahy to get back to being a spark plug. There was a point in the second half against Nebraska where the game was still within long-shot striking distance - Rutgers was up 15 with 13 minutes remaining. Here are the next four offensive possessions for the Scarlet Knights (I merged possessions 3 and 4 together, so I could show the defensive possession in between).
That’s one player taking over the game. I’ve been hard on Mulcahy at times, but that sequence was about as good as it gets.
So after a 2-0 week in the Big Ten, there’s suddenly a renewed sense of optimism about this team. And with back-to-back road games coming up, we’re going to learn a lot more in the next few days.
Upcoming Week: @Penn State on Tuesday Jan. 11 / @Maryland on Saturday Jan. 15